The White Shield
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He trudged sturdily along in the blankets they had wrapped around him, disdaining Robert's proffered assistance, but once stretched out upon their couch before a blazing fire, he became much more tractable. He called for a glass of whiskey complaining that what he had been through would be enough to kill him if he didn't at once supply this long-felt want of the inner man. A telephone message to the nearest drug store brought the quart of stimulant he thought he needed for the night, and when he was comfortably filled with his favourite beverage, life began to assume a more pleasant aspect. He graphically told the story of the wreck to his interested listeners and then imbibed a little more liquid nourishment. After a while he remarked sagely – "It's a lucky thing I didn't go down, some folks would have lost millions."
"Is that so?" asked Katherine pleasantly.
"Yes, millions! Look here, young woman, did you ever hear of a syndicate?"
Katherine thought she had heard the word somewhere.
"Well, I'm one of 'em!"
The whiskey was evidently getting in its work in the way of lubricating the tongue of the shipwrecked capitalist, and after waiting a moment, he continued:
"I'm on my way to Chicago to perfect a combine in – " and he astounded Katherine by unfolding the inside history of a daring and infamous combination – a gigantic steal, which if consummated, would change the ownership of millions. He named the leading conspirators, explained the vulnerable points in the scheme, and gleefully boasted of his own skill and diplomacy.
He finally fell asleep, but not until Katherine had got all the necessary points concerning the outrageous robbery which had been so adroitly planned.
Robert met her at the door. "Got a scoop?"
"Well, I should say so. A big one too!"
"How do you know it is true?"
"In vino veritas," whispered Katherine. "Besides, Carleton told one of our night men the other day, that promotion was in store for the fellow who 'got on to' any of the schemes of this new syndicate." She had heard so much newspaper slang that her lapse from the grammatical standard was perhaps pardonable.
Until nearly three o'clock she wrote hurriedly a description of the wreck, and also of the new "combine," Robert dozing in an easy chair meanwhile. She woke him up to give him her manuscript. "To the telegraph office, quick! It'll be in time for the city edition."
The Honourable Mr. Marchand slept late the next morning, and Katharine sent word to the office that she could not come until the next day. About noon, however, their guest took his departure, apparently but little the worse for his vivid night's experience. At a corner he bought a copy of the morning's Express and shortly thereafter leaned up against a wall for support. "Gee whiz!" The Honourable Mr. Marchand mopped his brow and read the startling headlines again. "Might as well go back to Cincinnati and Cleveland and Toronto, and all them towns I've just come from! Wonder how in thunder the thing ever got out!"
He strolled down Wabash Avenue to collect his scattered thoughts, and stopped half mechanically, to look into Stanley & Brown's window.Carroll's painting stared him full in the face, and a great light broke in upon him.
"That's her! That's the girl what done it! Blamed if I don't like her for it!"
That afternoon a messenger boy rapped at the studio door with a letter from the Express office for Katherine.
"Dear Mrs. Carroll," it ran, "we think you deserve a two weeks' vacation at full salary which is now double the former sum, and we beg you to accept the enclosed check as a slight testimonial of our gratitude for the biggest scoop of the year. Please report for duty on the eighteenth, and be ready to take the exchange editor's desk."
She was dazed. "Two weeks' vacation, double salary, promotion, and – "
Robert picked it up, it was a check for two hundred dollars.
During the jubilation which followed, a telegraph boy pounded vigorously at the door, but he might as well have kept still, since his efforts were unheard. Finally he opened it, and utterly unabashed by the spectacle of a gentleman kissing a lady, and the lady seeming to enjoy it, he fairly shrieked: "telegram."
Katherine vanished instantly, and Carroll read the despatch.
The mythical "quail on toast" became a reality that night, and the house seemed far too small to hold so much exuberant joy. In the morning, they went together to Stanley & Brown's to collect the picture money, and start a "really truly bank account," as Katherine said.
The firm was quite at a loss to know who the purchaser was, as he took the picture away with him in a carriage, and paid cash instead of by check, but the man who helped him put it on the back seat of the carriage reported that he had muttered to himself, as he was climbing in: "That's her! That's the girl what done it!" This may have given Mr. and Mrs. Carroll some clue to the identity of the unknown benefactor.
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